BANGOR, Maine — The murder trial of Peter Robinson resumed Friday with Cheryl Robinson, the wife of the Bradford man accused of beating to death a Hudson man with a large crowbar, taking the stand.
Peter Robinson, 49, is accused of killing David P. Trask, 71, on Nov. 12, 2011, in an alleged dispute over a right of way.
Robinson’s trial began Monday at the Penobscot Judicial Center. He testified Thursday that he acted in self-defense.
Cheryl Robinson, 54, of Bradford told the jury that she and her husband wanted to create a sanctuary area for animals away from hunters.
She testified that tensions began in 2000 shortly after the couple moved in. Cheryl Robinson said that George Trask, a brother of the dead man, threatened to kill her husband in a dispute over his hunting with dogs on the Robinson’s land.
Weeping, she recalled the day her husband killed Trask.
“Pete came bursting in the door, saying, ‘Oh, my God. Oh, my God,’” she said. “He was down on his knees with his head in his hands. He was crying.
“He said something about David coming at him with a crowbar and that he’d tried to kill [Robinson]. He said he’d hit [Trask] really hard,” she said.
The prosecution is expected to cross-examine Cheryl Robinson after a brief break.
Prior to her taking the stand, two of the victim’s brothers were asked questions about an alleged murder-for-hire plot before the jury entered the courtroom. Keith Trask and George Trask, both of Corinth, on the advice of their attorneys, Hunter Tzovarras and Michael Rair, respectively, refused to answer questions about allegations that they hired a man to kill Robison and dump his body at sea last year.
Defense attorney Thomas Hallett of Portland has stated in at least one court document that the two men and one of their wives hatched a murder-for-hire plot in the first half of 2012.
No one has been charged in the alleged scheme outlined in court documents. No one has been granted immunity from prosecution.
Hallett earlier this month subpoenaed the men and the woman as possible defense witnesses. Attorneys for the trio told Superior Court Justice William Anderson last week that if their clients were called as witnesses they would invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refuse to answer questions. They did that Friday morning before the jury was brought into the courtroom.
Anderson said Friday that he would rule on whether the men could testify on Monday when they are scheduled to be called as witnesses for the defense.
The alleged plot came to the attention of police in May 2012 — about five months after Robinson was released on bail — when an inmate at the Penobscot County Jail told officials that he had heard “that a man named Peter Robinson would be arriving at the jail and that whoever beat him up while he was there would get money from the Trask family,” according to Hallett’s opposition motion. It is unclear from court documents exactly when the inmate received this information.
The defendant said he confronted Trask about his leaving a chained gate open that gave access to the road to their properties. He also described “years of harassment” by Trask family members over hunting on his posted land and disputes over the right of way.
“I told him, ‘We need you to put the gate up, Dave,’” Robinson testified, recalling the day he took Trask’s life 16 months ago.
He demonstrated the moves he made, using his defense attorney Thomas Hallett as a stand-in for David Trask, according to a previously published report. He said Trask had the crowbar in his hands and attempted to hit him with it, which is when he took the 15-pound, 58-inch-long metal bar out of Trask’s hands.
“I reached out and grabbed it like this,” he said Thursday in the courtroom taking a wooden pointer from his attorney’s hands. “He went to grab me [and] I hit him twice,” Robinson said, using the pointer to poke his attorney in the side, an action which in reality broke half a dozen of Trask’s ribs, the medical examiner testified earlier this week.
“He said, ‘I’m going to kill you, you [expletives],’” Robinson said, recalling Trask’s last words.
Trask took off a glove and reached for what Robinson said he thought was a holster.
“I struck him on the side of the chin area [with the crowbar],” the defendant said.
The impact knocked Trask to the ground, according to a previously published report. The holster turned out to be a cellphone in a holder attached to Trask’s belt.
“He goes down and I see him going for his holster,” Robinson said. “I did one final blow because I thought he was going to shoot me.”
Robinson’s attorney asked him if he could have run away.
“No. All I could picture was him pulling a gun and shooting me,” Robinson answered.
Under cross-examination, Benson asked Robinson about the testimony of the former game warden, his neighbors and Trask family members who said Robinson had threatened the Trasks, according to a previously published report. “I don’t recall saying that” and “I never said that, sir,” Robinson answered.
“Are they all mistaken?” the prosecutor asked, according to a previously published report.
“I guess you can say that,” Robinson said.
The case is expected to go to the jury on Monday or Tuesday.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Peter Robinson is 59 years old. He is 49.